From critics to algorithms: the fading voice of elites in the music world

From critics to algorithms: the fading voice of elites in the music world


Not long ago, the music industry was a "closed club." It was hard to get into it, and the public taste was under the control of a small group of enlightened experts.

But every year the opinion of elites is becoming less and less valuable, and playlists and algorithms have replaced the critics. Let's tell how it happened.


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Music industry until the 19th century


In the European musical world for a long time there were no rules, hierarchy and division into professions to which we are accustomed. There was not even our usual model of music education. The role of music schools was often played by churches, where children studied under the guidance of an organist - this is how the ten-year-old Bach received his education.

The word "conservatory" appeared in the 16th century and meant an orphanage , where pupils were taught music. Conservatories that meet the modern definition of a term — with an entrance competition, a clear educational program, and career prospects — spread throughout Europe only in the 19th century.

Composing activities have also not been particularly prestigious for a long time. Many now popular classics earned a living as performers, conductors and teachers.

Before Bach’s music was popularized by Mendelssohn, the composer was recalled, first of all, as an outstanding teacher.


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The biggest music customers were the church and the nobility. The first was in need of spiritual works, the second - in entertainment. They were the ones who controlled what kind of music the light listens - even if they themselves were superficial to the music.

Moreover, at that time the life cycle of each composition was, by modern standards, very short. The "rock stars" were then virtuosos - touring musicians who demonstrated outstanding technical ability. They updated their repertoire every year - new works were expected of them in the new season.

That's why, like writes the Cambridge professor and pianist John Rink (John Rink) in his essay from the collection of the Cambridge History of Music, composers often divided their work into short-lived" hits "for the repertoire of concert performers and long-playing" netenku ". The production of music in this context rose on the conveyor.

The birth of academic music


The settled order began to change at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, when the very attitude of educated Europeans to music was transformed. Thanks to romantic trends, the concept of
Now we call this approach to music academic.

Like any noble occupation, “high” music needed systems that would maintain and protect its cleanliness. The rich patrons of the arts (from noblemen and industrialists to kings), whose
activity became more prestigious than ever.


Photo Diliff

It was on their money that educational institutions and cultural institutions, which are now the core of the classical music world, were built. Thus, the elite not only defended its place in European musical culture, but also took its development under its control.

Musical criticism and journalism


The first newspapers, which published reviews of musical works, also began to be published at the end of the 18th century, at about the same time as the conservatories, philharmonic and music schools that had become familiar to us. If educational institutions asked the bar for performing and compositional quality, critics questioned it.

Their task - to distinguish the eternal from the shifting - emphasized the timelessness of high music in the academic tradition. Already in the twentieth century, guitarist Frank Zappa pointedly noted that "talking about music is like dancing about architecture." And rightly so.

Music criticism originates in musicology, aesthetics and philosophy. In order to write a good review, you must have knowledge in all three areas. The critic must understand the technical aspects of the work of the musician and the composer, make aesthetic judgments and feel the connection of the work with the "absolute" - beyond the specifics. All this makes music criticism a very specific genre.

Soon after the appearance, music criticism flowed from specialized publications to the pages of the popular press - music critics managed to establish themselves as an integral part of journalistic culture. Before the distribution of sound recordings, music journalists reviewed performances, in particular, the premieres.

The reaction of critics to the premiere of the composition could determine its future fate. For example, after smashing of Rachmaninoff’s first symphony on the pages of the St. Petersburg News and Exchange Gazeta newspaper, a work didn’t perform until the composer’s death.

Given the need to understand the technical side of composing skills, the role of critics are often played by the music writers themselves. The review, which was discussed above, was written by Caesar A. Cui - Member of the Mighty Heap. Also their reviews were famous for Rimsky-Korsakov and Schumann.

Musical journalism has become an important element of the new musical ecosystem of the 19th century. And, like other aspects of this young “industry,” he was also controlled by an educated, privileged elite with academic standards.

In the twentieth century, the situation will change radically: technology will replace the elites , professional music journalists and DJs will replace the critic-composers.


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That interesting things happened with music criticism in this period, we will tell in our next material. We will try to prepare it soon.

P.S. Our recent series of materials is " Glitter and Poverty ".

Source text: From critics to algorithms: the fading voice of elites in the music world